This phone is the opposite of the Z Fold 4, and I want more

You’d be forgiven for thinking there was only one way to fold a smartphone — after all, Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 It’s really the only game in town if you want a big foldable screen today, and other phone makers are following in the design’s footsteps.

Except it’s not the only option, as Huawei demonstrated with the recently released Mate Xs 2, which folds differently. The foldable smartphone is still very new, but have we really reached the point where it’s settled on one design as the “right” one? Or is Hua’s path a path worth following?

In, out, fold everything

The upper part of the unfolded Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Huawei Mate Xs 2.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

First, we need to look at how the two phones fold. When folded, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 has a 6.2-inch Cover Screen, which is noticeably less wide than traditional non-foldable phones. Pick up the phone, and you’ll open it like a book, grabbing the top and bottom sections to pull them apart, revealing the large 7.6-inch screen hidden inside. It’s how Samsung has approached foldable smartphones from the start, and it’s the same format used Oppo And the Xiaomi; Plus it’s the same rumour pixel fold.

The Huawei Mate Xs 2 does things differently. The phone’s external screen size is 6.5 inches and the same width as any other non-foldable phone. In fact, when the Mate Xs 2 is closed, it feels like any other phone — just on the thicker side.

Hold it, and you get a different feel, as the curved sides are smooth and warm to the touch, unlike the Z Fold 4’s flat, slick metal. That’s because you’re holding the screen, not the chassis. Press a button on the back, and the Mate Xs 2 will detach, unfolding the device in its full 7.8-inch glory.

These are two different approaches to the same concept, and it is very rare to find such significant modifications in smartphone design. A curved or flat screen, in-display fingerprint sensor, side-mounted sensor, notch or hole doesn’t fundamentally change the way you use your phone. The foldable smartphone design works inside and out, and you’ll notice and experience the difference every time you interact with the device.

The ins and outs of design

The locked screens on the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Huawei Mate Xs 2.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Since we use our smartphones every day, often for many hours, they need a simple and friendly design. The Z Fold 4 has almost completely addressed one of the less friendly aspects of the foldable design internally, as the cover screen is wider than previous models, the bezel is thinner, and the amount of screen you’re using is slightly larger than the size. But it’s still not “normal”. The Mate Xs 2 is normal, at least to look at.

The Mate Xs 2’s software adapts the display around the fold, so you only interact with the front when the phone is closed. Unfortunately, it’s all very delicate, and I’m forever opening apps, removing icons, or trying to change the wallpaper without intending to do any of it. It doesn’t happen on the closed Z Fold 4, but the Mate Xs 2 is easier to use with one hand due to the standard dimensions. When closed, the Huawei phone is just 11mm thick, compared to the Z Fold 4’s hefty 15.8mm at its thickest point.

Unlock Huawei Mate Xs 2 using the button.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Usability changes when you decide to unlock the phone. Pressing a button to unlock the screen on the Mate Xs 2 is annoying. Yes, I know how that makes me sound, but after using a Z times 3 and the Z Fold 4 for several months — and enjoying the convenience of simply opening the phone like a book — there’s something almost archaic about pressing a physical button first.

You also have to press the middle of the screen when you open the Mate Xs 2 to lock it in place, and it never feels so uncomfortable. Additionally, while the Mate Xs 2’s screen does eventually go flat, there are a few “steps” in the hinge to get it to this point. You have to make sure to lock it in place, otherwise it won’t be completely level. None feel as fluid as the Z Fold 4’s hinge and fold mechanism.

Folding and closing it takes a little more effort, and because of the way it’s been designed, there’s no ability to get the same satisfying thing you get when closing the Z Fold 4. You might be wondering why these things matter. That’s because physical interaction with a foldable smartphone is a big part of its appeal. This is what makes it different, and getting it right is very important.

The Z Fold 4’s inward-folding movement is my favorite. The Mate Xs 2’s more regular folded shape is welcome, but it comes at the cost of convenience when the phone is opened up; The screen attracts more fingerprints, and more importantly, the hinge movement doesn’t feel as precise as the Z Fold 4’s hinge. Samsung has really improved its hinge technology since the original Galaxy Fold, while the Mate Xs 2’s hinge It doesn’t look any different from the Mate Xs.

It’s an open book

Galaxy Z Fold 4 screen creases.
Galaxy Z Fold 4 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Does Huawei’s somewhat labor-intensive move lead to a better big-screen experience? The one thing a lot of people don’t like about a foldable smartphone is the crease down the center of the exposed screen. The Mate Xs 2 doesn’t quite shave that off, but it certainly looks different from the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s wrinkle.

It’s less noticeable visually, and although you can still feel it when swiping across the screen, it’s very light. On older Mate foldable phones, the crease was more wavy and confusing both visually and to the touch, but that’s designed here. The only thing you’ll have to deal with on the Mate Xs 2 is the smudges on the bottom of the screen that make up the side of the phone when it’s folded when it’s in constant contact with your palm.

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 has a crease. It’s not as noticeable as the Z Fold 3, and a huge improvement over the original Galaxy Fold, but it’s still there. You can see it when the screen is off and feel it under your finger, but when the screen is lit up, you can’t tell there’s a crease when watching video unless you make an effort to get it in the right lighting. However, I still prefer it wasn’t there, and the Mate Xs 2’s foldable design means it’s really made smaller.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 screen creases.
Huawei Mate Xs 2 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There is a difference in the way both screens are touched. Samsung has placed very thin glass on the Z Fold 4’s inner screen. It’s a pleasure to swipe and tap, and it’s very close to the feeling of Gorilla Glass Victus covering the outer screen.

The Mate Xs 2 has plastic over the screen, and you’ll notice that. It’s warmer and less pleasant to the touch, and your fingertips don’t glide over it in the same way they do on the Z Fold 4. Like the folding motion, touching the screen is an important part of the overall experience, and glass over plastic wins every time, wrinkle or no crease.

Do we need two collapsible styles?

Galaxy Z Fold 4 unfolds in a person's hands.
Galaxy Z Fold 4 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Huawei is the only company seriously investing in externally foldable smartphone design with the Mate Xs 2, while almost all others are adopting the Z Fold 4 or Z Flip 4 the design. After spending time with both, the Z Fold 4’s design makes better sense from an everyday user-friendly perspective. Samsung has worked hard to improve its durability, and there’s a sense of security about the large screen that folds securely, which you just don’t get with the Mate Xs 2.

Still, the Mate Xs 2’s lack of a wrinkle, somewhat slimmer body, and larger external screen are major benefits—and they keep me from dismissing the foldable design outwardly entirely. But obviously when using the Mate Xs 2, it hasn’t been refined in the same way that the Z Fold 4’s design has been over the past few years. The screen doesn’t always lock on the first try, the button isn’t the most elegant solution for locking the device, and there’s an annoying creak on the back of the screen when it’s closed.

The Z Fold 4 is more mature and feels every bit of its higher price point. For an external foldable design to make sense, it would have to reach the same level of maturity as the Z Fold 4, and that would require a serious investment. But given the greater availability of the materials, screens, and hardware that make up foldable smartphones internally, the incentive for companies to invest in an alternative may not be there.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 in someone's hands
Huawei Mate Xs 2 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

it’s a shame. There are aspects of an externally folding screen system that work better than an internally folding design, and vice versa. The foldable smartphone is still new enough that settling on a single design now seems short-sighted, and there are elements of the Mate Xs 2 that prove we haven’t found the perfect fit just yet.

There’s absolutely room for both, but only if Huawei and others invest in improving the outwardly folding design now. At least then, it has a chance of reaching the same level as the foldable versions internally before fading into obscurity.

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